Happy Birthday

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2012 Barrett Winner

2nd Place Marwa Harp

"Sure there aren't any in the back?"

The man Mom asks is bald on his head and full of hair everywhere else. He does not look the type she would normally ask for assistance. But here, in Greenland Market, no one looks the type. He reaches for the garbanzo bean boxes and begins to unload them. His sweaty hands leave imprints on the can tops. Mom and I meet eyes; we both know the other is disgusted. Still we wait. Without looking up, he scratches his neck and speaks. "The truck comes in tomorrow."

Mom looks up and shakes her wrists almost like she is cursing the higher power. This is all because Heidi turns twelve today. She invited friends over.

Earlier this week I awoke to Mom sitting at my feet.

" I can't control her anymme," she said.

It was twelve degrees outside and Mom was wearing shorts and a tank. Her arms were wrapped around her knees, pressing them against her chest. I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her breath. She was hopeless. I am one of four girls in the family. But I knew she was talking about Heidi, her I-get-everything-I-want daughter. I was never like her. In fact, none of us were. Mom always told us no parties or friends over was allowed. We obeyed. But baby Heidi knows how to throw tantrums.

"It's just a phase of hers," I said. "You're not doing anything wrong."

Oddly enough, this morning Greenland was out of Funyuns. And Heidi and friends love their Funyuns. Mom is still racing around the store trying to get everything that will ensure the perfect party. I almost envy how much she feels the need to satisfy her.

I want the next topic to be about me.

"How about my driver's ed?" I say to her. "You have to sign me up."

She dumps Bounty paper towels into the cart. "Please, not now."

"You promised you'd go today."

"I said not now."

I give it up. We reach home. Mom orders me and my seventeen-year-old sister Valerie, to make a run to find the chips. Valerie just got her license and drives pretty reckless. She feels powerful with her own set of keys and dresses the part to match. As soon as she started driving she began making weekly salon trips and wearing more flashy clothing. Mom makes her change before she leaves for school almost daily. I wonder if that is what l will morph into next year. A part of me actually does not mind that happening. Valerie enjoys her freedom and boys like her.

We back out of the driveway. Valerie checks herself in the mirror. "I would so do me if I weren't me," she says.

We drive for ten minutes. Then Valerie hits the brakes and turns into a weird parking lot. “Stay,” she says, “in the car.”

“Mom said Kroger.”

“My bag. In the backseat. Hand it over.”

She catches my throw and slams the door shut. I watch her leave without arguing. I am the wallflower of the family. I observe and barely ever react. The man parked beside our Honda returns from the place. I do not feel I can call it a store. It looks more like a creepy house, specifically the one from the movie Coraline. The man throws two bags filled with white studding into his trunk and hops into the driver's seat. A craft store? Me and Valerie used to go to those places all the time. We would rent out movie from Blockbuster-we watched Coraline six times - and build things using craft store supplies. I remember a piece of jewelry she made me a year ago. I pull my pant leg up to reveal it tied nicely around my ankle. Valerie used to be the real kind of cool. Then she got her license.

Valerie leaves the store. She is biting her lip. There are two bags of Funyuns in one hand and her key lanyard in the other. A flush of cold enters when she opens the door. J know I should ask her how she knows about this odd place. Then I look at the time on the stereo, 2:50, and sink into the passenger seat. The party starts in 10 minutes. I do not ask.

She drives us back home twice as fast. But still, I am alive. At least until I see the mob of middle-schoolers rushing into my home. Heidi has a lot of friends. The girls are holding gift bags and wrapped boxes. The wind blows the tissue paper and bows revealing the insides. Heidi greets me at the door. I have never seen her so excited.

"Remember our deal," she says.

"I already have my eye on a certain purse," I say.

"What's wrong with you?"

Oh yes. Heidi promised me that I get to choose a gift of hers to keep for myself. This was only if I stayed away from her friends for the afternoon. It seemed fair enough to me. I give her a hug, wish her a Happy Birthday, and run upstairs. The presents are in my room. I decide to snoop through. Charming Charlies, Forever 21, Victoria's Secret, Best Buy. When I was twelve, the only stores I got gifts from were Limited Too and the Children's Place. I feel sneaky for going through the gifts. So I stop, and just in time too because Mom brings me a plate of food. Downstairs, the visitors laugh. Just minutes ago, Valerie left to go to the mall with friends.

"Thanks for not driving me crazy like your sisters," my Mom tells me before she leaves.

"Anytime," I say as I pull my laptop over my legs. I type "Sears driving school" into the search bar. I browse while I eat my pizza and Funyuns in my room alone.